Yesterday Barcelona hosted Valencia at the Nou Camp. The game was a stormy mess of rage, weariness, and tension.
Where are Barça right now? What kind of vibe is surrounding the team?
Honestly, the season has been a very close one in la Liga–contrasting last year’s relative cake walk through Spain–so the pressures made by a long list of injuries (Messi, Umtiti, and recently Dembélé ), and the increased schedule of Copa del Rey, Liga, plus imminently returning Champions league, are telling.
Coming off a world cup summer.
It seems that maybe Samuel Umtiti had to mortgage some space in his knee to win the cup last summer with France. He has mostly been absent this season, leaving his countryman Lenglet with plenty of opportunities to show he is capable.†
Also back in the squad, though now reportedly out with a sore throat to go with his sprained ankle, is Dembélé. The young man has grown into many of the expectations that surrounded his arrival last year. He’s the most exciting player on the pitch at many times. Messi has shown him love, and in spite of the steady stream of hate and gossip he’s faced from a perpetually retrograde Spanish press, he has been decisive and inspired in every appearance he’s made for the team. That being said, he isn’t the metronome of possession that young Arthur from Brasil has been.
Dembélé scoring and looking for his Haters in 2018
So now, as the team is gearing up to face Madrid in the CdR semi-finals after decisively mounting a comeback in the cup against Sevilla, they faced Valencia in a crunching game that was played with absolute intensity that took a clear toll on the players. The kind of game the players would probably be feeling for weeks after. Former Arsenal center back Gabriel Paulista cut a beaten figure playing for Valencia, with a bandaged face and black eye. Pique and Gameiro slammed heads, splitting Pique’s scalp open even after he received staples to close it, and netting Gameiro a vicious chichón that ended up taking him out of the game.
So with Barça going down two goals to nil in the first half hour, the pressure was on at the usual places. Messi stepped up to be the expected decisive force. He scored a penalty before the half, and then unleashed a cannon blast to equalize the game 20 minutes into Barça dominating the second. But he too would fall after a knock to the thigh that needed the fabled “magic spray” to heal…
And that draw at 2 was how it ended. Bloody, bruised, and carded, both sides looked spent. What was gained? What was learned?
The single point, coupled with the eventual loss of Atletico in their game today against Betis, means that Barça stay atop the league by six points. But a tough point that could prove to be pyrrhic if the congested schedule proves equally brutal. Valverde has done a better job of distributing minutes among the squad, though, so with any luck they have enough in the tank for the hard time ahead.
So with Rakitic reportedly on the way out this summer to make money for the club and room on the pitch for Frenkie de Jong, it is worth noting that of all the players that have attempted to deputize for Busquets, the one who comes closest is the Croatian/Sevillan blonde, wonder-pegasus. Rakitic even seems to have the no. 5’s gait down…
Coutinho looks to be in a continuing crisis of confidence, that has yet to truly break. He scored a brace in the cup last week, but honestly, when we look at the fact that Barça have won the Copa del Rey for four years running without winning the Champions league since the treble of 2015, it seems that the King’s cup may be a poisoned chalice.
Can Messi stay healthy? Will Umtiti ever heal? Is Dembélé going to keep proving the haters wrong?
And for all of us, battered and concussed from the fight of our life–is it possible we will suffer our way to victory–or only that we suffer.